Cantwell Supports Artemis But Wants “Accurate” Timeframe

Cantwell Supports Artemis But Wants “Accurate” Timeframe

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) expressed enthusiasm for the Artemis program today, but with the caveat that an “accurate” timeframe needs to be set.  Getting back to the Moon by 2024 would have an “enormous” cost. She sees passage of a NASA authorization bill as important for setting NASA’s priorities and while she could not promise it would happen by the end of this year, she is confident it will no later than early 2021.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)

Cantwell is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees NASA, NOAA and its Office of Space Commerce (OSC), and the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).

Speaking at a University of Washington symposium sponsored by its Space Policy and Research Center, Cantwell focused mostly on NASA, but briefly mentioned top issues she expects to come up at OSC and FAA/AST.

She is one of the primary co-sponsors of the Senate version of the 2019 NASA Authorization Act (S. 2800), along with committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), space and aviation subcommittee Chairman Ted Cruz (R-TX), and subcommittee Ranking Member Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). The bill was approved by committee last year and almost made it to the Senate floor for a vote in August, but the plan was to get it passed by unanimous consent and apparently it became clear that would not be possible.

Cantwell said today she is “hopeful” about getting it passed this year, but “I can’t promise” it will during the lame duck session between the now and the beginning of a new Congress in January. If not, “I guarantee you” it will be done “in the very early part of 2021.”

The bill has a number of differences with the House version, H.R. 5666, which was approved at subcommittee level in January, but there has been no action since then. Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), who chairs the space subcommittee in the House, similarly expressed hope last month that a bill would clear Congress this year.  She lost her reelection bid this week. Whether that affects the chances of reaching agreement on the bill or not remains to be seen.

Cantwell sees the authorization bill as critical to getting NASA priorities authorized and “appropriately funded.”  One of her top interests is the human spaceflight program, especially Human Landing Systems (HLS). Blue Origin, headquartered in Washington, is leading one of the HLS contractor teams.  Cantwell pointed out Washington has a strong history in lunar vehicles. The Apollo-era “Moon buggies” were built by Boeing in Kent, Washington, which is about to designate the “Kent-built lunar rover on the Moon as a state historic landmark” and create a “space-themed park centered around an interactive replica of a Lunar Roving Vehicle.”

As she has in the past, she signaled strong support for the Artemis program, noting that it will land the first woman on the Moon, but added that the timeline needs to be realistic.

So we’re very excited about Artemis in general. While there is a lot of excitement in Congress, there is not always consensus about when and what timeframe we should have to meet this Artemis goal. Some have said they would like that landing by 2024. Well, that would require an enormous amount of resources so … I think we’ll get our NASA administrator and others to set an accurate timeframe for what it will really take us to return to the moon.

Other NASA priorities she mentioned were the Space Grant program and a flight demonstration of next-generation fuel efficient aircraft.

“Safety and sustainability” are the issues she anticipates next year. “It’s very imperative that we remain very committed to safety” and that includes commercial human spaceflight.  Currently the FAA is prohibited by law from promulgating new regulations for passenger safety on commercial human spaceflights until 2023, the end of a “moratorium” or “learning period” set by Congress.  Until then, companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Space Adventures, or Axiom offering to fly spaceflight participants to space must only obtain “informed consent” from customers.

Cantwell said today that Congress must “continue to monitor” industry’s progress and “ensure that we will have a safe program for passengers.”  She also wants clear roles and responsibilities assigned to government agencies to investigate commercial space mishaps, though it was not clear if she meant only for human spaceflight or more generally.

She also called for increased investments in understanding orbital debris and improving space situational awareness, noting there is a “growing consensus that a civilian agency” should issue warnings about potential collisions.  She did not endorse Wicker’s recently introduced bill, however, saying only that she looks forward to “working with my colleagues” on the issue.

Wicker’s bill, S. 4827, the Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act, essentially codifies President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-3, assigning that task to the Department of Commerce. The bill does not have any co-sponsors at the moment. OSC has been working diligently on implementing SPD-3 for the past two years, but neither the House nor Senate has been willing to increase its funding or formally assign it that role so far.

Cantwell’s overall theme was preserving the aerospace supply chain and “ecosystem” in the Pacific Northwest.  Space activities in Washington account for $1.8 billion of the state’s economy, she said.  In addition to Blue Origin, SpaceX and Aerojet Rocketdyne have a significant presence in the state. SpaceX builds its Starlink satellites there and Cantwell gave the company a shoutout for providing high-speed broadband service to the Hoh Indian tribe “which the chairman of the tribe said catapulted us into the 21st Century.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.